The Panorama of Persia
Persia Fertile Crescent
15 days/ 14 nights
“The Panorama of Persia” is an ideal trip to know the four most important corners of Iran: Kurdistan, Susa, Persepolis and Isfahan. It is a journey to discover the ancient civilization of the Iranian plateau by following the traces of the Elamites, through the rigorous temple in the historical region of the Fertile Crescent; the ziggurat of Choga Zanbil. In Elam, located in southeastern Iran, which later became part of Persia, a process of acculturation took place between Elamite and Iranian elements over several decades which resulted in their political power precisely during the Achaemenids. During the trip, in addition to getting acquainted with the theme of sacred temple of Elamites, we will have the opportunity to know the origins of the Jewish holiday “Purim” in Hamedan. Also, this city allows us to visit the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai and learn about two very important figures in the history of Jews in Iran. Crossing the Alborz Mountains between Hamedan and Kermanshah, in Bisotun, we will visit the most remarkable bas-relief representing Darius in the 5th century BC.
We will travel to the places of great archaeological and historical importance of Iran since it is the only way to know the ethnicities, languages and religions existing in this country. After visiting Tehran, the modern capital of Iran, the journey continues to Hamedan, Kermanshah, Ahvaz, Shiraz, Yazd and Isfahan. These are the most historical cities located in the west, southwestern and central Iran that represent the history of Iranian civilization and enrich our cultural background.
Few places in the world are able to offer us the opportunity to visit a temple of the pagans belonging to the 13th century BC, a synagogue in the ancient city of Ecbatana, a Zoroastrian fire temple and Iran’s most beautiful mosque in Isfahan. In Iran, religious culture is a relevant point in such a way that there is a metamorphosis between the cult of Zoroastrianism and Shiite Islam. The procedure of religious changes arouses a great interest since even today on your trip to Iran you can visit some places of worship of the great religions of the world such as: the Ziggurat of Choga Zanbil in Susa, the Synagogue in Hamedan, the Fire Temple in Yazd, the Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque in Shiraz and the Vank Cathedral in Isfahan. Travelling is the only way to discover the mesmerizing wonders that reveal themselves to our eyes during the tour. Passing through Ahvaz, Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Tehran and Kashan we will have no choice but to admire a land full of beauty that with its seductive charm narrates a genuine history inherited from the ancient civilization of Elamites.
“The Panorama of Persia” is a journey through the western and southwestern region of Iran to the region of Fars in central and southern Iran where the archaeological sites, the elegance of the cities and the hospitality of its inhabitants will satisfy even the most demanding.
|DEPARTURE/RETURN LOCATION||IKA International Airport|
|DEPARTURE TIME||Please arrive at least 2 hours before the flight.|
1° Day; Country of origin - Tehran
Departure by scheduled flight to the capital of Iran, Tehran, located at the foot of Mount Alborz. Welcome and greetings by SITO TRAVEL’s tour guide at the airport. Transfer to hotel and check-in.
2° Day; Tehran
Starting the trip with a full day city tour in Tehran, the most dynamic and effervescent city of Iran. With a population of over 8 million, this bustling city reflects its complexity in a chaotic atmosphere like any other metropolis. However, Tehran is a cornerstone of modern history as it offers its extraordinary museums to travelers among which are National Jewelry Museum that has the most important collection of precious jewels in the world.
Iran’s concern of artistic developments, recent architectural interventions and the revival of many traditional style cafes has made the city a fascinating labyrinth that holds a surprise for visitors at every corner. In order to discover the real Tehran, one must not be fulfilled with only visiting the museums, but also it is highly recommended to dive into the urban bustle, enjoying the contrast between modernity and tradition present in its many cafes and bazaars. It is the only way to get to know its culture and the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the metropolis.
After breakfast, we will walk through the streets of Tehran, to discover its particularly unique rhythm.
- National Museum of Iran exhibits history, art and culture through archaeological findings from the sixth millennium BC to the Islamic era, the 7th century AD. There is a wonderful collection of ceramics, pottery and bronze in this museum and, in addition, every six months, a temporary exhibition is organized with the most valuable archaeological objects, borrowed from other museums such as Venice, Berlin, etc.
- Golestan Palace, located near the Grand Bazaar, is a remarkable complex that has its roots in the 16th century, when Tehran slowly transformed from a simple village into a real city. Golestan means “garden of flowers”, a name that honors wonderful Persian Gardens in the place. The contemporary Iranian history is so indebted to this complex where Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was crowned claiming himself the successor to Cyrus the Great. Next, we visit the entrance to Tehran Grand Bazaar where, among its 10 kilometers of galleries, is possible to find any imaginable object.
- National Jewelry Museum (open only from Saturday to Tuesday) is located in a large vault with a 25 cm thick door in the basement of the Central Bank of Iran. The museum houses royal jewels, precious stones, a globe set with gems, a variety of tiaras, the crowns of the Pahlavi and Qajar dynasties, and the world’s largest pink diamond, Darya-e Nour (182 carats). This diamond was brought to Iran as a symbol of Nader Shah’s victorious campaigns in India in 1739.
The Carpet Museum is an alternative to the National Jewelry Museum.
- A pleasant walk across the Tabiat Bridge (Pol-e Tabiat), a modern landmark of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Tabiat Bridge is a pedestrian area, built on one of the main highways of the city connecting two green hills (two public parks). The bridge was designed by a 26-year-old Iranian woman, “Leila Araghian”. Since its inauguration in 2014, it has won many international awards. The designer has expressed that this work has been conducted with the purpose of bringing people together.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
3° Day; Tehran- Hamedan
The Medes, of Indo-European origin, settled on the Iranian plateau, the present Iran. At that time, there were many small principalities and different linguistic and ethnic groups: the Gutis, the Lullubis and the Kassites. Later, in the 8th century BC, the importance of the Medes increased considerably. Finally, in the seventh century, the whole of western region of Iran and some neighboring territories were attributed to the power of the Median Empire. The focal point of the Medes’ policy was undoubtedly the northwestern region, the center of which was the famous city of Ecbatana or Hamadan. The name of the capital of the Medes appears in the inscription of Darius I at Bisotun as Hegmataneh, and is transmitted by Herodotus and other authors as Ecbatana. When the Medes were subjugated to the Persians and welcomed into the new empire, they occupied important positions of power in such a way that they were indistinguishable from the Persians by the Greeks.
From the end of the 9th to the beginning of the 7th century B.C., the Media region was bounded by the Zagros Mountains in the west, the Garrin Mountains in Lorestan Province in the south, the Qaflankuh Mountains in Zanjan Province in the northwest, and the Dasht-e Kavir Desert in the east. Its neighbors were the kingdoms of Gizilbunda and Mannea to the northwest, and Ellipi and Elam to the south.
The morning begins with a visit to the ancient capital of the Medes:
- Ecbatana: according to Herodotus the ancient city of Ecbatana is an architectural complex built on a hill surrounded by seven circles of walls, one rising above the other. The battlements of these walls were painted in various colors and the roofs and columns were covered with silver and gold plates. It can be seen that in the sixth century BC, as proven by Achaemenid inscriptions, Median goldsmiths decorated the walls of the royal palaces of the imperial capital of Susa. However, Median art remains a matter of speculation. Apparently, this situation lasted until the royal palaces of Ecbatana were discovered and studied.
- The historic center of Hamadan, from the urban design point of view, has a circular layout which, in some respects, has been directly inspired by Ecbatana. In fact, the Imam’s Square today has a fundamental role in meticulously explore the city and know about the changes undergone during a deep renovation in the last decades. Imam Square with its main streets (six in total) connects the central area with various neighborhoods and places of great social and religious importance, including the Great Bazaar of Hamadan, the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai and finally Avicenna Mausoleum, great Persian philosopher and physician Abu Ali Sina.
- Avicenna Mausoleum: He was born around 980 AD in Afshana, a village near Bukhara in Khorasan. His father, who had left Balkh a few years earlier, was a governor. A few years after his birth, the family moved to Bukhara. The capital was a very active cultural center that attracted the attention of scholars, including Avicenna. He did his early studies with the most prominent teachers of the time. Given the availability of teachers and libraries, his father’s high position in the Samanid administration, and his precociousness, at the age of eighteen, Avicenna was fully educated in the Greek sciences.
Avicenna began his professional career at the age of eighteen as a physician. After his father’s death, he was also assigned to an administrative position, perhaps as a district governor. He wrote “the Canon of Medicine” which was used as a reference book in many medical schools, including Montpellier until 1650. His writings were not limited to the field of medicine but also included music, metaphysics, chemistry, philosophy and rhetoric. Avicenna Mausoleum is a complex located in Avicenna Square that features a library, a small museum and a spindle-shaped tower inspired by Kavus Tower.
- Mausoleum of Esther and Mordechai: Hamadan is the guardian of one of the most important events of the Jewish people, Purim. In this city, we will have the opportunity to explore a historical event that took place during the reign of Xerxes, the king of the Achaemenids. In fact, the holiday of Purim is celebrated annually on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar. It commemorates the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people from the plot of the evil Haman, which was the holocaust of all the Jews in his kingdom. Esther, the wife of Xerxes, intervened on behalf of the people and denounced Haman’s plan to the king. The 14th of Adar was then chosen as the date for the celebration of Purim.
- We finish the visits with Alavian Dome, a peculiar example of Seljuk architecture. It is a square building decorated with stucco, a typical material used in the Seljuk structures of the t13th century. This visit allows us to know the details of the ornaments of the places of worship and observatories built during the Seljuk period. In fact, when we visit the red and blue domes in Maragheh, even from the distance, we immediately perceive the decorative and architectural similarities in the shape and facade of the buildings and monuments.
Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
4° Day; Hamedan - Kangavar - Bisotun - Kermanshah
In the morning, departure to Hamadan. On the way, we will visit Bisotun, declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose fame is indebted to monumental inscription on a rock that was ordered by Darius I. Then, we continue to Kangavar to visit the Temple of Anahita (the goddess of water).
- Bisotun: is located on the ancient trade route that connects the Iranian plateau to Mesopotamia and has remains from the prehistoric to medieval period, Achaemenid, Sassanid and Ilkhanid. The main monument of this archaeological site is a bas-relief and a cuneiform inscription commissioned by Darius the Great when he ascended the throne of the Persian Empire in 521 B.C. This bas-relief represents Darius holding a bow, symbol of his sovereignty, and crushing the bust of a man lying on his back before him. According to the legends, this figure is Geomat, the magician of the temple, who claimed to be the king of the throne whose assassination allowed Darius to take power. Around the bas-relief, about 1,200 lines of inscriptions tell the story of Darius’s battles in 521-520 B.C., against the governors who tried to divide the empire founded by Cyrus the Great. The inscriptions are written in three languages: Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian. The oldest, written in Elamite, narrates the legends about the king and the rebellions. It is followed by a Babylonian version of the same content. The last part of the inscription is particularly important, since it was when Darius first introduced the Old Persian. The inscription, being the only Achaemenid monumental inscription, has great importance as it documents a specific historical event: the re-establishment of the Persian Empire by Darius I the Great. It also testifies to the mutual influences in the development of monumental art and writing in the region of the Persian Empire. In Bisotun, there are also traces of the Mede period of the VIII-VII century BC.
- Taq-e Bostan: After the fall of the Parthians, the Sassanids regained power by founding a new Persian empire: the Sassanid Empire. The name Sassanid identifies the dynasty, founded by Ardashir I, which ruled Persia between the Parthian rule and the Islamic conquest in 651 AD. The term Sassanid derives from Sasan, who was a priest of the temple of Anahita – the goddess of water – in Istakhr, a city in Fars, which was at that time a kingdom of the Parthian Empire. Babak, his son, governor of the city, taking advantage of the succession disputes between the pretenders to the throne of the empire at the beginning of the 3rd century, revolted and proclaimed himself king of Persia. Ardashir I, also known as Artaxerxes by Greek speakers, defeated the Parthian army and, consequently, the Sassanid Empire extended its colonies further and further by conquering the remaining Iranian and Mesopotamian provinces. Ardashir crowned himself at Ctesiphon in 226 AD and called himself Shahanshah (king of kings). Taq-e Bostan is the only place where one can learn more about the details of a bas-relief of the Sassanid period representing the succession of power with the presence of very relevant characters such as Mitra and Anahita. The largest bas-relief, under the largest arch, represents the royal hunting scene par excellence where hunting details abound as if it were an illustrated book.
Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
5° Day; Kermanshah - Ahvaz
Departure to Ahvaz to discover Susa, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire. After that, we head to Choga Zanbil, the oldest archaeological site on the itinerary.
- Susa: the city of Susa was under Mesopotamian or Elamite rule (2400-1500 B.C.) until the Achaemenids dominated Persia and later all the ancient kingdoms of the Near East as far as Egypt. For the Mesopotamians, attracted by the natural wealth of the Iranian plateau not found in their territory such as wood, stone and metal, this city probably constituted a stop to ship goods eastward from the Elamite territory. By the 6th century BC, under the leadership of Cyrus the Great and then Cambyses II, the Achaemenids had already conquered most of the African and Asian lands known by the names: Mesopotamia, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Palestine and Anatolia (Asia Minor). At the beginning of the 5th century BC, Darius the Great ruled the Persians whose strategy was not based on new conquests, but to organize perfectly the inherited empire. He divided the imperial territory into 20 provinces which were called “Satrapy” and their governors were called “Satrap” (protector of the land). Although the satraps was endowed with military and civil powers, they could be deposed by order of the king. At that time, there were no roads except for a few short ones leading from a city to its sanctuary or seaport. To connect all parts of the empire, Darius undertook the extraordinary task of building a 2683 km long road, the Royal Road, connecting Susa in central Asia to Sardis on the Mediterranean. Susa, during the reign of Darius and Xerxes, became the political and administrative capital thanks to the connections provided by this road. Before Darius, this city was the capital of the kingdom of Elam and in 1175 BC, the ruler Shutruk-Nahhunte brought spoils from Babylon to Susa including the famous stele with Hammurabi Code. The city after being devastated by the attack of Assurbanipal, the last king of Assyria, it became the imperial residence of the Achaemenids in 646 BC.
To understand the history of Iran, it is indispensable to know the oldest civilization on the Iranian plateau: Elam. At the time of the third dynasty of Ur, this term was used to designate a region in eastern Mesopotamia. A few centuries later, around the 18th century BC, and shortly before Hammurabi ascended the throne in Babylon the term Elam was also attributed to the rulers of Susa. In fact, this word was born to indicate generally the foreigners who lived in the mountains east of the Mesopotamian plains at the time its elite took power in the city of Susa, making prominent what was previously limited to remote valleys of the Zagros mountain range.
- Ziggurat of Choga Zanbil: the Elamite religion is not an easy matter to understand since most of the epigraphic and archaeological sources come from Susiana, a region under the great influence of Mesopotamian culture. Consequently, many Sumerian and Akkadian deities benefited from temples and cults in both Susa and Elam. Throughout the period of Elamite authority on the Acropolis of Susa, there were temples dedicated to both Suso-Mesopotamian divinity and properly Elamite deity. In fact, there is a clear impression that polytheism was, as in Mesopotamia, the omnipresent religion in the life of Susans. From time to time Babylonian evangelists had to appear before the king, traveling about 35 km from Susa to the southeast, where Untash-Napirisha founded a new city called Dur-Untash, today known under the name Choga Zanbil. The said toponym, which means basket mound, probably originated in reference to the mass of land formed by atmospheric agents into the rounded form of an upside down basket. The ziggurat has four floors embedded vertically on a square temple with a height of more than 50 m, surrounded by numerous buildings, temples and palaces, protected by three walls. The ziggurat is formed by a massive structure of raw brick, reinforced by wooden beams with external cladding in fired brick. Each floor of the ziggurat has a specific function: at the top is the sanctum sanctorum with an altar and statues of the patron deity, to which only the priest-king had access. On the intermediate floors there are writing schools and along the stairs, there are the rooms of the priests. In the lower part are the storerooms and clay tablets on which the contracts or the amount of goods delivered to the temple are recorded.
In the facade, in addition to knob design, there are rows of brick whose visible face has inscriptions. Among every ten uncarved bricks there is one carved with the following inscription:
“I, Untash-Napirisha, son of Humban-Numena, king of Anshan and Susa, desirous that my life be continually one of prosperity, that the extinction of my lineage not be granted when it shall be judged (?), with this intention I built a temple of baked bricks, a high temple of glazed bricks; I gave it to the god Inshushinak of the Sacred Precinct. I raised a ziggurat. May the work which I created, as an offering, be agreeable to Inshushinak.”
Return to Ahvaz. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
6° Day; Ahvaz - Shiraz
Departure to Shiraz, by the long route between Khuzestan and Fars, two regions that allow us to visit the ruins of the city of Bishapur and the bas-reliefs of the Chogan Strait (Tang-e Chogan).
After the fall of the Parthian Empire, the Sassanids regained power by establishing a new Persian Empire: the Sassanid dynasty. The name Sassanid refers to the dynasty that ruled Persia from the Parthians until Islamic conquest in 636 AD. This term is derived from Sassan, the name of a priest at the Temple of Anahita (the goddess of water), in Istakhr. This city in Fars was part of the Parthian Empire. Babak, governor of the city, took advantage of conflicts over the succession of pretenders to the throne and at the beginning of the 3rd century rebelled and proclaimed himself king of Persia. Ardashir I succeeded his father and expanded his rule to neighboring provinces to the point that Artabanus IV, Parthian ruler, declared war against him. In this war, the Sassanids defeated the Parthian army and began to conquer the Iranian and Mesopotamian provinces and Shahan Shah (king of kings) was crowned at Ctesiphon in 226 A.D. After him, his son Shapur I ascended the throne in 241 A.D. continuing the expansionist policy of his father concentrating on eastern Afghanistan, Asian steppes and westward to the Mediterranean and Roman borders.
- Bishapur, the ancient capital of the Sassanid Empire, was built with the help of Roman soldiers defeated by Shapur I in the battle of Edessa in 260 A.D. ending with the imprisonment of Emperor Valerian. On both sides of the Chogan River, a little further from the town of Bishapur, we will be surprised by six large bas-reliefs on the rocky coast on which the Sassanid emperors carved their victories.
After visiting Bishapur and the bas-reliefs on both sides of the river, we continue along the beautiful mountain road to Shiraz.
Arrival in Shiraz. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
7° Day; Shiraz
The city of Shiraz is the capital of the administrative region of Fars or Pars. A single moment of reflection on the last word is enough to realize that we are in the geographical heart of Iran’s history where the Persians built Parse, also known as Persepolis: the city of the Persians. The historical relevance of the region is not limited to the Achaemenid era, as Shiraz covers a vast historical axis that goes from the 4th century BC to the 1700s. In Shiraz, Persian poetry becomes truly tangible; the gardens, bazaars and mosques of its historic center, steeped in culture, embraces every visitor. The city’s inhabitants take refuge in their homes at noon to reappear around the Arg Citadel in the afternoon, where activity continues until late at night. The people of Shiraz are known for their taste for nature and picnic and are considered to be the liveliest and funniest people in the whole country.
To discover the Dionysian atmosphere of Shiraz (the name of the city says it all, as it refers to the shape of a snake), the traveler should not miss visiting the tomb of the Persian poet and mystic “Hafez” or wandering the alleys of the Vakil Bazaar where so many European traders came in search of the famous product of the god Bacchus.
- Vakil Bazaar: a unique construction that thanks to its brick architecture and vaulted roofs, fresh air circulates here in summer as well as in winter.
- Saray-e-Moshir Caravanserai: originally a traditional bazaar, it has been used as a museum and traditional restaurant and tea shop. After the Islamic Revolution it was closed for some years. It has become a place where handicrafts and products of all kinds are produced, located next to the Vakil Bazaar. A world of dreams that lets the imagination fly.
- Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque: The term “elegance” finds its true meaning inside this sacred space with its splendid polychrome majolica tiles. The springtime of Shiraz is reflected surprisingly on the walls, stained glass windows and the exquisite tile decorations. This mosque, a masterpiece of the late 1900s, also known as the Pink Mosque, is a welcoming place where the chromatic world from the rose petals, iris and so on catches the eye at first glance.
- Khan School whose decorations of pink and blue flowers with birds refer to the fresco paintings of the Safavid palaces.
- Qavam House (Narenjestan Garden): It dates back to the Qajar period (1880). The name of the garden “Narenjestan” comes from sour orange or bergamot trees, so we are not surprised that Shiraz is the most famous city for its bergamot trees found in the streets of the city. The pavilion in the middle of the garden was a place where people went for administrative purposes and public meetings were held, as well as those between dignitaries and nobles of Qajar.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
8° Day; Shiraz - Naqsh-e Rostam - Persepolis
After breakfast, the morning is dedicated to an excursion to the great archaeological sites of Persepolis and Naqsh-e Rostam, admiring the Achaemenid archaeological remains from the 4th century BC and Sassanid from the 3th century AD. . It is about 70 km from Shiraz. On the way back to Shiraz, we will discover some elements of medieval and Islamic period.
- Tomb of Hafez: a Sufi mentor, the great poet of the 14th century A.D. The sweetness of Persian philosophy was born between the lines of Hafez’s poems. What immortalizes this poet is beyond the meaning of his poetry, his Sufi thought, which makes him outstanding for all readers. The surprise lies in the fact that Hafez’s words are related to Bacchus and Venus. Therefore, reading Hafez’s Divan is like taking a walk in his paradisiacal garden to understand the contradiction that exists between Dolce Stil Novo and modernity: it may seem a subversive poem!
- After that, Naghsh-e Rostam is a necropolis and a stunning place where the stone tombs of the great Achaemenid kings are still preserved. It is no exaggeration to say that this site is the richest one among all from the archaeological point of view in Iran since in this place lies a magnificent bas-relief of the Elamites, 1300 BC, particular forms of royal tombs inscriptions in ancient Persian, 400 BC, and finally the very important Sassanid documents and manuscripts of the Middle Persian, 300 AD. In a single archaeological site, one can contemplate the history of Iran from the Elamites till the defeat of Valerian, the Roman emperor, against Shapur.
- Persepolis is a sacred city founded by Darius I the Great in 524 BC to celebrate Nowruz festival (New Day), the Persian New Year, on 21st March. Persepolis was conquered and burned by Alexander the Great in the revenge for Xerxes’ plundering in the Median wars. The excursion to Persepolis explains in details this majestic city, built by the best craftsmen of the world who received wages and insurance according to the royal law. In this place, we will come to a deep understanding of its architecture by contemplating the wonderful bas-reliefs of the Apadana Palace.
Among the ruins, we can visit its imposing palaces that never fail to impress travelers: the Palace of 100 Columns where the King used to receive the generals and the Audience Hall of the Apadana Palace with a square plan and six rows of columns, up to 19 meters high, which includes the brilliant anti-seismic system to hold the ceiling in case of shock. The access stairways depict Satrap’s processions and the imperial guards called the Immortal soldiers.
Near to the archaeological site there is a historic structure acting as a hotel that once hosted archaeologists and team leaders working during the excavations of Persepolis in the 1930-40s. In the 1960s and 1970s, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, and his wife Farah Diba went to this hotel for the 2500 Years of the Persian Empire Celebration.
After the visit, we return to the hotel and in the evening we will have the opportunity to walk around Persepolis.
Dinner and overnight stay at a hotel in Persepolis.
9° Day; Persepolis - Pasargadae - Abarkuh - Yazd
The purpose of a cultural trip is to enrich the traveler’s knowledge. Pasargadae, the first political and diplomatic capital of ancient Persia, makes it possible and also demonstrates sagacity of his brilliant general known as Cyrus the Great. He, the father of all Medians and Persians, celebrated the conquest of Babylon with a declaration defined as the basis of the first charter of human rights: the Cyrus Cylinder that is a clay document whose content also includes the freedom of the exiles as well as the Jews. The archaeological site of Ancient Persia, Pasargadae, among its ruins, highlights the simple square-shaped Tomb of Cyrus made of stone blocks, reminiscent of a Mesopotamian ziggurat at first glance. Cyrus the Great with the construction of the tomb wanted to respect his origins, that is, the ancient Iranian civilizations. In addition, he also managed to surprise Alexander the Great centuries after his death in the summer of 530 BC. It is said that in the inner chamber he had written a message to all conquerors including Alexander the Great who burst into tears after hearing his words:
“O man, whoever you are and wherever you come from, for I know you will come, I am Cyrus who won the Persians their empire. Do not therefore begrudge me this bit of earth that covers my bones.”
- On the way, we will make a visit to the archaeological site of Pasargadae, the first capital of the Persian Empire founded in 546 BC by Cyrus the Great during his reign. In Pasargadae, the real Pardis or Paradise was born: the “Persian Garden”. Among the monuments and ruins of the site, there are three royal palaces and a magnificent bas-relief: The Private Palace of Cyrus the Great, the Audience Hall and the Tomb of Cyrus. Pasargadae was once surrounded by two rivers that flowed through a peculiar irrigation canal into the Persian Garden and entered the city after having been purified.
Halfway before arriving in Yazd, we will make a visit to the city of Abarkuh: a particular urban example where the construction of the houses involved the use of adobe (bioclimatic architecture) acting as an insulation system during the summer and winter. The same system has been applied in the construction of an ancient icehouse (Yakhchal) that supplied and produced ice in the hottest months of the year. In Abarkuh, we visit one of the oldest cypresses in the world which according to some sources is about 4000 years old.
Arrival in Yazd. Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
10° Day; Yazd
Breakfast. The whole day is dedicated to visit Yazd, one of the most interesting cities in Iran.
- Atash-Kadeh (Fire Temple): It is a mistake to think that Zoroastrians worship fire. Before going to a Fire Temple, where the sacred fire is always burning, one must recognize fire as a sacred element according to the philosophy that considers it the source of purity and light. This is the right way in which Zoroastrians practice their religion. The fire has been burning for more than 15 centuries without being extinguished even once. The duty of the temple magician is to empty the ashes and supply wood to keep the flame burning for practitioners to draw it upon as a source of good.
- Jameh Mosque of Yazd: The two tallest minarets in Iran rise from the portal of this mosque, with a height of 48 meters. This mosque is not only famous for the height of the minarets, but also for the splendid main portal, decorated with inlaid majolica tiles; it is in fact an artistic masterpiece that offers one of the most fascinating works of Iran. In order to observe the details of the cut of tiles, you need to approach the main facade.
- Historic center and ancient district of Fahadan: Yazd owes its fame mainly to the architecture of the old town, entirely built of adobe. The most important monuments of the historic center, however, are the “wind catchers” (Badgir) perceptible from afar. For this reason, Yazd is also known as the “city of wind towers”. These towers, called Badgir, serve to provide the necessary ventilation since the houses do not have many windows to the outside. During the day, Badgirs remove hot air from the inside and, at night, conducts fresh air from outside into the building. The system takes advantage of two environmental conditions in the region: the difference in air pressure and temperature.
In Fahadan, in addition to the wind towers, there are other monuments worthy of admiration. Due to the safety of the city, in the early 13th century many intellectuals and scientists took refuge there during the Mongol invasion of Persia, led by Genghis Khan.
- Water Museum: In Iran, especially in desert areas like Yazd, there was an underground irrigation system that supplied the oases with fresh water from the underlying aquifers through a system of underground canals up to 20 kilometers long with inspection wells called “mil”, artificially excavated along the path of the canal. These vertical shafts ensured access to the underground tunnel, both for water withdrawal and to facilitate the necessary maintenance works.
The canals, in Persian known as Kariz or Qanat, were dug by yielding the natural inclination of the ground, so that they conveyed water from the aquifers to farmlands or inhabited centers. This system not only minimized the loss of water by evaporation, but also prevented the contamination of drinking water. The Water Museum gives us the opportunity to know the details of this millenary work.
- Towers of Silence: A place where everything stops. It contains a cemetery that was used until about 70 years ago, very different from the common ones as it was a sacred place for the Zoroastrians. The deceased were taken to the top of the tower by special workers called “Salar”, the only ones who had the right to touch the dead. The corpses were left inside circular buildings and there, thanks to the atmospheric agents and the vultures, they turned into bones and were later transferred to the well in the middle of the tower, where they would find a perpetual rest. The four elements of nature: air, water, fire and earth are considered sacred by the Zoroastrians, so they did not tend to contaminate the earth with burial of human remains, therefore, there was no cremation for the same reason. The dominant silence in this place is deafening, deep and only softened by the sound of the wind.
Later, in the neighborhoods of the old town, surrounded by walls, we can visit refined traditional houses without entering sites such as Seyed Rokn Addin Mausoleum, the cenotaph of the 12 Imams, dating back to the 12th century, with the inscription in Kufic letters of the names of the 12 Shiite Imams and Alexander’s Prison (Zendan-e Eskandar).
The old Bazaar of Yazd, Amir Chakhmaq Complex and Dowlat Abad Garden.
In the evening, we visit Zur-Khaneh, a typical place dedicated to traditional Iranian sports. Originally, Zur-khaneh was founded to instruct soldiers in the armed forces during the Persian Empire (this visit depends on the day and time of training sessions).
Dinner at a restaurant, transfer to the hotel and overnight stay.
11° Day; Yazd – Meybod - Nain - Isfahan
After breakfast, departure to Isfahan. To reach the city of Isfahan, we have to cross two desert towns: Nain and Meybod.
Along the way, we visit the town of Meybod with the characteristic hand-painted ceramic factories.
In Meybod, we visit a caravanserai, a traditional icehouse and the brilliant tile and ceramic industry. The term caravanserai is composed of kārwān (camel caravan) and sarāy (building) indicating a building or set of buildings intended to accommodate travelers and merchandise, both as a stopover on commercial roads and as a point of arrival or storage of goods near the entrance to cities. The caravanserai was divided into two different social categories: royal and popular.
- Meybod Icehouse (Yakhchal): it is a trullo-shaped construction mainly used for storing ice during the summer. Ice production took place during the winter in the basins outside the ice house and its conical shape protected the inner tank containing ice from the sun. The diameter of the tank, corresponding to the level of the entrance door, even reaches 13 meters and gradually decreases to 6 meters. Therefore, the internal height of the icehouse from the lowest part to the highest point of the dome was 21 meters.
We continue the journey to the desert town of Nain, famous for its handmade carpets.
- Jameh Mosque of Nain with an interesting Mihrab and the Old Bazaar, now fallen into disuse.
At the end of the day, we arrive in Isfahan, one of the most beautiful cities in Iran.
Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel.
12° Day; Isfahan
The highlight of the itinerary is Isfahan. This city is a historical image that completes the journey in Iran. It is no coincidence that Isfahan attracted Pasolini’s attention to shoot some scenes of his film in Naqsh-e Jahan square. There is a Persian saying: “Isfahan is half of the world.” In fact, the flourishing of Islamic-Iranian architecture was born here in Naqsh-e Jahan Square where the turquoise blue dominates the domes of mosques and the sky above. Over time, the former polo field was converted into the home of valuable art workshops. The Safavid era corresponds to the third Persian Empire which restored Iran’s power and established a new country based on political, religious and military relations. The presence of Vank Cathedral (also called St. Savior’s Cathedral), run by the Armenian Christian community since 1605 AD makes a good example of this city. However, the Safavid power was represented through art and thus, a phase of “Renaissance” of Persian civilization, culture and art was born in Isfahan. The Islamic Renaissance period in Iran sees artistic lightning under the rule of the Shah Abbas I (1587-1629). In Isfahan, in a matter of seconds, every traveler’s dream of Middle East comes true: Iran and the appeal of the Renaissance, Chehel Sotun Palace and the magnificent ceiling of the Music Palace of Ali Qapu Mansion.
Breakfast. The whole day is dedicated to visit the city walking through the streets of Naqsh-e Jahan Square and handicraft stores.
- Royal Square or Naqsh-e Jahan: (the image of the world) located in the center of the city, was redesigned by Shah Abbas I. There are two arches in the large central square of Naqsh-e Jahan (512 by 163 meters). On the southern side, there are many handicraft stores selling miniatures, turquoise work, enamels and traditional fabrics. Naqsh-e Jahan Square was home to an elite of merchants who sought artistic refinement. In the square, there are still the pillars that served to delimit the Polo field built 400 years ago.
- Queen’s Mosque or Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque: is a magnificent masterpiece of the Safavid era that stands in a harmonious atmosphere. Shah Abbas I selected the talented Iranian architect, Ali Akbar Isfahani, as the chief builder of the mosque which lasted almost 17 years. On the shah’s order, this mosque was dedicated to his father-in-law the Lebanese theologian who would later have a Koranic school in Isfahan. The architect Isfahani’s masterpiece put into practice an innovative pattern that never existed before. The mosque, in fact, has neither minarets nor internal courtyard, nor an ablution basin. The prestigious exterior and interior decoration, the play of lights towards the altar, the glory of the calligraphy with a background of the lapis lazuli and finally the complexity and beauty of the floral motifs under the dome have made Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque the most beautiful mosque in Iran.
- Royal Mosque: (today is known as Imam Mosque) puts before our eyes the genius of the architect Isfahani. Once you finish visiting the interior space of the mosque, in the middle of Naqsh-e Jahan Square – former Polo camp –, you can see the unusual grandeur of the minarets and a clever and completely voluntary deviation of the architect in order to create an aesthetic harmony with the square. The Imam Mosque is a unique masterpiece where every decoration and every particle finds its meaning in geometric symmetry. In this place, the inner courtyard is decorated with an ablution basin around which there are the four majestic iwans that represent the glory of the use of blue color in the sacred Islamic space. In addition to the decorative beauty of the two-layer dome – 36.3 m internal height and 51 m external height–, from southern iwan applies a peculiar system to amplify the sound or the calls of the adhan. It is advisable to walk there and listen to the pleasant echo of footsteps.
- Ali Qapu Mansion: the palace where the sovereign used to welcomed his guests. Ali Qapu Palace has six floors and a gate connecting the square to the Chehel Sotun Palace. From the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, you have a view of the palace terrace with its 18 columns. This masterpiece consists of the incorporated details such as the pond on the 5th floor, the stucco ceilings, the type of materials and ornaments used on the walls of the building which highlight the oriental world and, finally, the spiral staircase that leads up to the enchanting music hall decorated with stucco that depicts vases and other similar themes which together help to enhance the acoustic space of the hall.
- Chehel Sotun Palace: (40 Columns Palace) is the pavilion where the king held ceremonies. A few steps from the square, another magnificent Persian Garden shines in the courtyard of this palace that embraces one of the delights of the Safavid Renaissance: the pavilion is still alive in the heart of the Persian Garden as if the luxury of real life had never ceased there. In this place, we will see the masterpiece of miniature art which, by admiring the paintings and the stories they tell, open a door of culture and anthropology to familiarize us with the most important characters in the history of the Middle East in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Dinner at a restaurant and overnight at the hotel.
13° Day; Isfahan
Iran’s multi-ethnicity is a relevant factor in understanding Iran today. While some of today’s nomads have been living in the Iranian plateau for centuries, other ethnic groups such as Turkmens or followers of other religions, such as Christians, came to Iran for geopolitical reasons and recognized Iran’s tolerance towards other ethnicities and religions. One need only think of the particular case of the Armenians who were forced to move to Iran on the orders of Shah Abbas I. In fact, the Armenians of Jolfa region of Armenia, in the 1920s, left their homeland, devastated due to ongoing conflicts between the Ottomans and the Safavids, and after arriving in Isfahan, the Armenian patriarchate began a new socio-religious phase by setting up new headquarters and communities. The Jolfa district of Isfahan welcomed the Armenians, and Shah Abbas I, in a manuscript signed by himself, allowed them to establish new commercial and religious relations, giving them a certain freedom, fully supported by the Safavid court. The Armenians opened an important trade route in the heart of Isfahan, the Safavid capital. The headquarters of the Armenian caliphate was centralized mainly through the publication of new religious texts using the Gutenberg invention in Iran. The beauty of the architecture and the details of the murals in Vank Cathedral surprise any traveler.
- Vank Cathedral: and its adjoining museum tell the story of the Armenian diaspora who have lived outside their homeland for over 300 years. Iran not only knew how to welcome its guests, but also protected them from serious conflicts that threatened their social life in the Armenian neighborhood of Isfahan. Today, in the courtyard of the Vank Cathedral, the Armenians have opened a new museum of anthropology, with such precision and care, where you can immerse yourself in the real culture of a country so far, thanks to the information displayed in the galleries of these historical exhibits of the Armenian people. But this is not the end of the story since Vank Cathedral – not the only church in Isfahan – invites the Armenian community to religious celebrations and, most importantly, genocide commemorations. Every year on April 24, the Armenians gather at Vank Cathedral in order to commemorate the victims of the Armenian genocide in 1915. As you enter the elegant courtyard of Vank Cathedral, you will notice one of the most important Armenian historical monuments, dedicated to the deported Armenians.
- Jameh Mosque of Isfahan: passing through Isfahan means to be surprised and immersed in the local culture. To get from the Jolfa district to the Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, we have to cross the Zayandehrud which defines the border between the two religious quarters of Isfahan. Crossing the Armenian quarter and entering the very popular district of the Jameh Mosque is one of the most important visits as we can admire the progress of Iranian-Islamic architecture that occurred from the seventh century until 1900. Therefore, it is not wrong to point out that Isfahan Jameh Mosque is the oldest and most complete of its kind in the whole country. Here, details are infinite and spaces are immense. In the 14th century, an exemplary model of altar, called the Oljato mihrab, was born in this mosque. The building has a complex stucco composition consisting of three-dimensional inscriptions blended in floral and geometric carvings. The mosque has two clearly recognizable spaces, even for inexperienced people: the interior and the exterior. The admiration of the monochromatic bricks inside and the turquoise blue outside is unavoidable. The transition from one space to the other allows us to travel back in time, especially when we are under the magnificent Taj al-Moluk dome, considered to be the most beautiful brick dome of Iran.
- At the end of the visits, we throw ourselves in the crowd. In Isfahan, as one visit ends, another begins, and the traveler unconsciously prepares to listen to the city’s narratives, as if Scheherazade were reading them directly from “the Arabian Nights”. Those who love to get lost in the alleys and spend time with the people, should know that it is time to enjoy walking among the stores with the scent of perfume and spices as there is a bazaar right at the main entrance of the mosque. After a 40-minute walk, you can reach Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Before following the covered corridors of the bazaar, one can satisfy his curiosity by visiting the synagogues of Isfahan’s Jewish community. This is speaking of multi-ethnicity in the true sense of the word and not easily found in other parts of the world.
- Visit the historic bridges over Zayandehrud: Si-o-Se Pol (33 Arches Bridge) and Khaju Bridge (Pol-e Khaju).
Free time. Dinner at a restaurant and overnight stay at the hotel.
14° Day; Isfahan - Kashan - IKA Airport in Tehran
As the sun sets and its rays brighten, the route back to Tehran becomes more noticeable, as if the journey to Iran has just started. It is time to pack the suitcase, which returns loaded with excitement, enthusiasm and a lot of culture. Normally, travelers worry about the cost of overloading their luggage, and as the color of the sky darkens, they are thinking about how to arrange souvenirs and gifts; they like to buy everything from pistachios to fabrics and turquoise stones. There is no doubt that everything will fit, except one thing: the hospitality of the people we met in the markets, historical sites and restaurants. This image is engraved in their hearts and is an unforgettable memory that the traveler will carry with him everywhere. Above all, it will be a good incentive for all those who have enjoyed this trip to return to Iran for the second time.
- In Kashan, there is also Bagh-e Fin, one of the most famous Persian gardens you can visit during the trip to Iran. The Fin Garden was designed by Shah Abbas I (1557-1629), as an earthly vision of Paradise. The concept of the Persian garden appeals to the soul only by listening to the melody of spring water overflowing into different canals. Today, the central pond called “camel’s throat” (Shotor Galu) is responsible to distribute water to all side channels, using the simple theory of communicating vessels. In 16th century, the Persian Garden in Iran became particularly important as Shah Abbas I chose it as the ideal place for the royal coronation when he ascended the throne. Two centuries later, the Qajar kings also chose the Persian Garden of Fin as the operational headquarters of the court. Among the greenery of Fin Garden, only cypresses and sycamore trees can explain the symmetry and elegance of its design. On the other hand, there are some extraordinary frescoes from the Qajar era. To find out the secrets of the garden, we need to pass by the Fin Bath (Hammam-e Fin), known for the suicide, or rather, the assassination of Amir Kabir, the reformer of Qajar government.
- We will visit Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse, the Safavid period thermal complex with a hydraulic system and a particular heating system. In fact, by climbing to the roof of the hammam, we will have the opportunity to observe the details of the integrated systems of the complex.
The importance of the city is not only based on the variety of houses, but it is mainly known for the production of high quality rose water.
In fact, the trip to Iran now takes on its original scent of rose petals grown in the hills of central Iran. This beautiful city, located in a green oasis, still houses some of the most beautiful traditional houses in the area, such as the magnificent house of the wealthy merchant Tabatabai. During the visit, some details of a patriarchal house come to light, where the head of the family, father (pedar), gathers the children in the same villa in order to facilitate family access and economic management. Furthermore, this 19th century mansion highlights two criteria of Iranian-Islamic architecture: introversion and extroversion.
Transfer to Tehran airport, dinner and overnight stay at IBIS hotel.
15° Day; Tehran- Destination Country
Transfer to Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) departing Tehran to destination country.